The long awaited new Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Public Library is now open. The sparkling new $11 million library received rave reviews at its debut Friday evening at a reception for donors who helped make the library possible.
“I love it; it’s beautiful,” said Susan Berthel, who along with her husband Steve donated approximately $150,000 toward the library. The Berthels are the second largest individual donor to the library after the building’s namesake, who donated $1 million in 2018.
The new library is in stunning contrast to the look and feel of the old library, which was built in 1985, across the street. While the old library was somewhat dark and cramped the new library, which is just over 21,000 square feet, is bright, open, airy and strikingly modern in both design and function.
“They took some chances and it paid off,” said lead architect Dan Pohrte of Product Architecture and Design.
The 10-foot tall west-facing glass windows on both the first and second floors are perhaps the key to the design. Natural light pours in through the insulated panes, which afford striking views of Grand Boulevard. The windows amplify the open feel of the library, while bright, efficient LED lighting throughout adds to the crisp, modern look.
That feel is perhaps most evident in the visually striking children’s section which occupies, along with the checkout area, the first floor. The children’s section, along with the rest of the library has a bright blue, green, and gray color scheme.
In the old library across the street, which will soon be demolished to become a parking lot, the children’s section was right next to the adult section. In the new library the children have their own floor.
“I think it will be good to have kids be able to spread out and not be as top of each other,” said Christal Beyer, the library’s manager of youth services. “There’s more space for kids to come do their homework or meet their friends or come to a library program. There’s a lot more room for them to just come and be kids. … They can come in and not have to worry so much about disturbing the adults on their computers.”
The adult section on the second floor features cushioned bench seating with spaced out individual tables. It also has some larger tables and has a quiet study room in a corner and five other study rooms, including a four-person study room named after, in a whimsical touch by an anonymous donor, James and Lilly Potter, the fictional parents of Harry Potter.
The second floor also features a maker studio with a laser cutter, 3D printer and a multitude of other devices that one can use to make almost anything.
“The possibilities are endless,” said Jessica Krieter, the digital innovation librarian at the library. “The only limit is your imagination.”
The library has two new self-service check out stations and a fancy new sorting system that can sort returned books into the proper section bins by reading a bar code, saving a lot of time that used to spent sorting returned books.
The basement features a divisible meeting room with a 115 person capacity meeting room, complete with a large screen monitor and another projection screen that comes out of the ceiling.
At the reception for donors on July 23, Brookfield Village President Mike Garvey praised Francis, saying the new library would be transformative for Brookfield.
“I think it’s very important that her name is on this building and the legacy that she will leave in this village and the surrounding communities for what she’s done for us,” Garvey said. “It’s tremendous.”
Longtime trustees Carol Kissane and Dianne Duner were thrilled about the new library.
“It’s magnificent, long time coming,” Kissane said. “Took us 15 years, it took patience. We worked hard and are very proud.”
The route to a new library was a circuitous one. It began in 2007 when the library board tried to buy several homes across from Kiwanis Park at Arden and Washington avenues.
That plan fell through when one of the homeowners refused to sell, leaving the library struck with one home on Arden that it had already purchased. The real estate market crash of 2008 left the library stuck with the house, which it rented out before finally selling it for a nearly $100,000 loss in 2013.
In 2012, the library pivoted and bought the United Methodist Church at 3541 Park Ave., across the street from its longtime home at 3609 Grand Blvd. The library board had hoped to fund construction of a new building by asking voters in 2016 to approve a referendum to sell $10.3 million in bonds.
Voters rejected the referendum, but Brookfield Library Director Kimberly Coughran never gave up. After rejecting the idea of second referendum, Coughran and the library board decided to try and raise the money necessary to build a new library through a combination of amassing cash reserves through their annual tax levy and through donations.
The library board amassed roughly $6 million in reserves. But that wasn’t enough. In July 2018 Coughran and fundraising consultant Michael Bruni paid a visit to Francis at her financial planning business at Eight Corners to ask for a sizable donation.
They had decided on a time-honored fundraising tactic of offering naming rights of various aspects of the library in exchange for donations of various amounts. Francis and Coughran were also members of Brookfield Rotary Club.
“They just happened to come on a good day,” Francis recalled on Friday evening.
Francis, who has run Brookfield Financial Plans in Brookfield for nearly 40 years, agreed to donate $1 million dollars and the library board decided to name the building after her. Francis pointed to her grandchildren as one reason that she decided to donate the money.
“My grandkids are home schooled. They’re here all the time. They live a block down the street,” Francis said.
The $1 million donation from Sokol Francis proved to key and more than 100 other individuals have donated to a capital campaign which raised approximately $1.5 million. The library’s final step was taking out a 15-year $3.6 million loan from the First National Bank of Brookfield.
“The library board, not just this board but previous boards, saved for a lot of years to make this happen,” said library board member Jennifer Perry. “It was something they decided in early 2000s. Linda Sokol Francis pushed us over the edge. Linda is very modest about it, but really she made this possible.”
Jo Ann Day, the president of the Foundation for the Brookfield Public Library, said it was remarkable that the town could come together to raise the money to build a new library after the referendum’s defeat.
“I don’t know how many communities could ever have done what this community did,” Day said.
Once she donated $1 million dollars, Francis didn’t get involved in the planning of the new library.
“I wrote the check and didn’t say another word,” she said.
On July 23, making brief remarks to the assembled donors and guests, Francis got to see what her generosity helped build.
“I just can’t believe it’s so beautiful,” Sokol Francis said. “It really, really is.”
The library is having a soft opening this week and will host a Grand Opening bash Saturday, July 31 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. which will feature scavenger hunts, maker studio demonstrations, a fairy time story hour, virtual reality trips and crafts.
“We are thrilled with this much needed new building’s capacity and all it will offer to Brookfield residents for many years to come,” Coughran said in a text message Monday. “If community response from the sneak peek nights can be used as measure, Brookfielders of all ages will be very excited to use the new facility.”